When the Pleasure of Freedom Is Worth the Pain of Breaking Free

“Why does JJ keep breaking out?” my daughter asked as I tested my Maltese’s invisible fence collar. The fluffy white escapee was safely back in our yard after his latest taste of freedom, and I was trying to identify the malfunction. The battery was charged, the buried wire was hot, and the collar was working. Normally, the “hot” zone creates a warning beep before triggering a harmless shock to the receiver on the dog’s neck, and it’s enough to keep him inside the invisible fence. But not anymore.

“Well, honey, I guess the pleasure of breaking free is worth the pain of breaking out,” I answered.

We’re convinced Bucky, the next door neighbor’s dog, taunts JJ. He roams free – no fence, no restrictions. JJ sees him outside the fence and wants what he has! He wants freedom, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it.

And it hit me: when liberty waits on the other side of pain, sometimes we, too, need to decide the reward of living truly free is worth the temporary discomfort of breaking free.

Invisible Bondage that Prevents Freedom

In one sense, JJ’s invisible fence is like the sin that ensnares us (Hebrews 12:1): strongholds, habitual sins, hidden mindsets and heart attitudes keep us trapped so we don’t live outside ourselves for Jesus and for others!

Whether the barrier is the result of our sinful nature or Satan’s schemes, freedom requires breaking through what’s uncomfortable so we can know what’s unconventional: the kingdom of God and His righteousness!

In my life, it looks like this:

  • Facing hurt and feeling uncomfortable and painful emotions instead of burying or numbing them with food, shopping, exercise, comfort, pleasure or some other form of Novocain or distraction.
  • Dealing with disappointment instead of acting indiferent.
  • Forgiving when I’ve been legitimately wronged and the person isn’t even asking.
  • Blessing someone who has hurt me when I’d rather nurse my wounds and water the root of bitterness.
  • Getting up early instead of sleeping in so I can spend time in God’s presence, reading the Bible and talking to Him.
  • Placing myself on His examining table like a patient before her doctor and staying there while He examines and reveals my wicked ways.
  • Staying on the operating table while He transplants my heart: a pure one for a wicked one, a heart of flesh for a heart of stone.
  • Examining my expectations of others to see my own pride and sitting still long enough with God for Him to convict me and bring me to a point of repentance.
  • Choosing to believe the truth of God’s word over the lies of the devil, even when the lies seem more believable.
  • Believing God even when it’s risky or might appear foolish to others.
  • Trusting God even when I’m terrified and would rather think I'm in control.
  • Letting go of what I want for what God wants.
  • Standing firm in my faith even when it means being rejected by this world.
  • Doubting my doubts because my faith in God’s promise to keep me is greater than my fear of the devil’s ability to deceive me.

On the other side of these hard and many times painful decisions is the pleasure of freedom: peace, joy and a satisfied soul because Jesus has become the source of my contentment! In our instant-gratification, do-whatever-feels-right culture, it can be challenging to deny our flesh and endure a little deprivation and discomfort for true freedom!

But it’s worth it!

Be forewarned, though: The devil will administer a warning when we get too close.

Just like I can turn up the intensity on JJ’s collar, the devil will turn up the heat on us. He will try make the pain of breaking free seem more than we can bear so we’ll stay right where we are, getting as close to the invisible barrier as we can without ever really knowing what it means to live fully free in and for Jesus. The closer we get to freedom, the more pressure he applies.

Keep going! Lay down every weight and the sin that binds you and run through like JJ! Only when we bust through the invisible barrier the devil uses to entrap us can live truly free, knowing and experiencing the fullness of God and unashamedly and fearlessly following and serving Him.

Invisible Restraint unto Righteousness

Some people see an invisible fence as cruelty, and while it does restrict our puppies’ freedom, it’s also there for their safety. It keeps them from predators and off the street. In the same way, the invisible fence that holds us back isn’t always the devil preventing freedom; it could also be the Holy Spirit protecting us against danger by enforcing boundaries God puts in place for our own good and safety!

While the devil’s fence is meant to bind us, the Holy Spirit’s fence restrains us to righteousness: we want to bust out of the one but remain safely within the other.

When we are tempted to break God’s boundaries, the Holy Spirit sounds a warning in our spirit.  Like JJ’s collar. If we keep going, the Holy Spirit administers a slight shock. Like the sting of sin. And like JJ, if we continue pursuing sin, the shock increases. If we eventually harden our hearts against the Holy Spirit and continue in our sin, there’s still pain, but the Holy Spirit lets us pursue that which entices us. Like JJ running after Bucky.

Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Where we want to push through the devil’s attempts to hold us back, we want to stop at the first warning of the Holy Spirit.

From Bondage to Boundaries

I’m a lot like JJ. Even my family jokes that he and I are just alike in personality. In the same way I tend to push the boundaries before I learn painful lessons, I also desperately desire freedom in Christ and a life of power in the Holy Spirit, and I’m willing to go through just about anything to get it!

The only way to keep JJ in now is to turn up the intensity: make it more painful to break out. The devil will do this, but so will the Holy Spirit. Which pain is worth it to you? The pain of staying under the devil’s influence or the pain of submitting to the delivering power of the Holy Spirit?

Our other dog, Bella, has her collar set on the lowest intensity. It’s been there since day one. With the first taste of the power of the fence, she would barely go back in the grass! To this day, she doesn’t dare get close enough to even hear a warning beep.

In a way, I want to be like them both: I want to desire and go after the freedom Jesus provides, no matter what, but I also want be so sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading that I don’t even want to entertain the slightest movement toward unrighteousness.

Let’s go after freedom, but not the lie of freedom that leads to bondage and destruction. Let’s go after freedom that results from the truth of righteousness. Genuine freedom. I pray that the hesitation we experience would be the restraining work of the Holy Spirit to hold us back from sin and not the lies of the devil to hold us back from righteousness!

Interestingly, once JJ is free, he tries to come back, but he’s not willing to endure the same pain to get back inside the invisible barrier. Let that be us! Let us never suffer pain in order to return to bondage.

Ask the Holy Spirit – your Helper, Counselor and Guide – to take you to this place of authentic freedom in Christ, and then DON’T TURN BACK.

"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).